The independent studio opened its doors at 604 3rd Avenue this Febraury, and is already making its mark on arms and legs in the community.
“As soon as I opened up the shop here, people were driving up from the U.S. to get tattoos with us. There are a ton of people coming from in the community, and a lot of people coming in from outside communities too. You name them—we’ve got them. We just tattooed the owner of the hotel last night and the manager from the bank yesterday,” said Martin.
Steve An, owner of the Whitewood Inn, is in the process of getting his first tattoo at Insane Ink. He would have driven to Brandon or Regina to get the ink on his arm, but is happy to get it done locally.
“Going to the city was the only option for tattoos out here until they opened up. And they do custom work, which is great,” said An.
Although it’s prime location was the motivation behind opening Insane Ink in Whitewood, Martin says the town has already proved to be the perfect place to expand his ink initiative.
“I have always been a city guy, but (Whitewood) is a safe community, it’s a nice quiet community, and they are very receptive to new businesses. In fact, it was actually the town’s idea to help me get a loan for 30 grand to open the place. I thought it was odd myself, I thought for sure with tattoos it would be a little different, but they’re a great community,” he said.
“The guy who sold me the building held off two months just to make sure that I got it—and he was an older gentleman in his 70s. They are really supportive here and there is a line up for tattoos and piercings all the time.”
Opening a new business in the middle of rural Saskatchewan can be a risky endeavor, especially when that business is unconventional. But it was a gamble Martin was willing to take.
“Sure I took a chance, but the truth is, if you don’t take a chance you’re never going to know. I’m certainly glad I had the patience and I waited to do everything properly,” he said.
“I did a lot of research before I got into this, and the amount of people that are looking for tattoos these days is absolutely crazy. It’s a market that’s been around for centuries, and its not going to go anywhere. In fact, it’s getting more and more prominent now these days.”
From the time he purchased the building in Whitewood, it took Martin 13 months to open the tattoo shop. Staring with making sure he met health code, bringing in proper equipment, and registering his company, a lot of effort went into making sure things were done right at Insane Ink.
One of those processes was hiring a tattoo artist.
Robb Sutherland, also originally from Vancouver, saw the online job posting and jumped on the opportunity to trade in the B.C. city craziness for a more relaxing life in rural Saskatchewan.
“Whitewood is a nice little community, and I wanted somewhere nice to raise my family. Vancouver is just getting too big and crazy for my family and I, so I wanted to come out to a small community for that, as well as for the job. I had been trying to find a nice place to bring my family for quite a while now, so all the cards just fell into place,” said Sutherland, who started at Insane Ink three weeks ago.
Previously an artist at Anarchy Ink Tattoos in Vancouver, Sutherland has been tattooing for 20 years. He expected an obvious change in client base and desired tattoo designs with the new location, but admits he is surprised at amount of people wanting ink in Whitewood.
“We get all walks of people out here—we’ve had doctors, farmers, and a lot of people you would not expect to be getting tattooed are coming,” he said.
“I was just saying to Jerry yesterday that I can’t believe how busy we are getting, being in such a small community, but there are all the little out lying towns too that people are coming from.”
Not only can you now get a tattoo in Whitewood, you can also learn to give one. In addition to being a walk-in tattoo and piercing studio, Insane Ink is also a product supplier and a school. The International School of Body Art, which educates aspiring tattoo artists, has two training schools in North America—one in Wisconsin, and the other one at 604 3rd Avenue, Whitewood.
“When it comes to tattooing, it’s very hard to find someone that will teach you, so we just thought we would give people a proper education. We came out with our training DVDs first, then we started doing the online courses, and then we opened the schools because of all the interest,” said Martin.
Martin, originally from Vancouver, and his business partner Gary Grey Jr. founded the International School of Body Art in 2007. The school is a registered education corporation that provides apprenticing tattoo artists the opportunity to be trained on the Tattoo Apprenticeship Certificate Course. Through a combination of face-to-face teaching, DVD/online training and a total of 600 hours of study, students learn about tattooing from artist Gary Grey Jr. Martin estimates he sold over $120,000 in DVDs last year alone, and the program has trained over 500 artists internationally since 2007.
“We have students who are police, lawyers, Army students from overseas, and a lot of our students come from South Africa. Australia is really big, India, Germany, and the UK is definitely really big too,” said Martin.
Classes thus far have been held at the Wisconsin location, but the first Canadian class will be held March 7-11 at Insane Ink in Whitewood.
An, who understands the workings of small town business, sees the benefit of bringing a bold new venture to Whitewood. He says it helps to change up the traditional small-town landscape and bring new life to the town.
“I’m a businessman as well here in town, and I think (Insane Ink) gives change to the town and it gives the younger generation opportunities out here as well. It can motivate kids, and with the school he has, it’s opportunities for people out here and just opens your eyes to something new.”
Christeen Jesse is a fourth-year Journalism student and a contributing reporter for the University of Regina School of Journalism's 2012 news service for weekly newspapers in Saskatchewan. Christeen was born and raised in Regina and has worked as a reporter with Global Calgary and at the World-Spectator in Moosomin, SK.